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Russia says no plans to supply arms to Georgian breakaway region

RIA Novosti

17/03/2008 16:33 MOSCOW, March 17 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's decision to lift sanctions against Georgia's unrecognized republic of Abkhazia does not mean Russia will supply weapons to the conflict zone, a Russian deputy foreign minister said Monday.

On March 6, Russia lifted trade, economic, financial and transport sanctions on Abkhazia, and urged other CIS countries to follow suit. Georgia's envoy to the UN, Irakly Alasaniya, said the decision could lead to the militarization of the conflict zone.

Grigory Karasin said Russia's move was dictated first of all by humanitarian and economic reasons. "The 12 years of the notorious embargo... only aggravated the complicated situation for Abkhazia's residents. Now we can offer socio-economic assistance to Abkhazia's people at a state level," he told the Ogonyok magazine.

"We are not talking about starting supplies of Russian weapons to the conflict region. We are strictly abiding by international rules in this matter," Karasin said.

Karasin advised Georgia to lift its own embargo. "I think the Georgian side should first think about lifting restrictions on its own ties with the Abkhaz side. That would create goodwill and constructive relations," he said.

The deputy minister said Russia is also gradually lifting restrictions on ties with Georgia imposed two years ago, which included visas, air and postal links.

Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia February 17 has led to the so-called Kosovo precedent with the parliaments of Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia requesting Russia's parliament, the UN and other organizations recognize their independence in early March.

Since the declaration by Pristina, the United States and 18 of the 27 EU states have recognized the Republic of Kosovo. Russia, China, Spain, Cyprus and several other countries have refused to recognize its independence.

Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia were involved in bloody conflicts with Georgia after proclaiming independence following the split-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Karasin also said Monday the Russian Foreign Ministry is not closely linking the Kosovo precedent with expanding cooperation between Russia and Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Moldova's Transdnestr.

"Our cooperation... did not start yesterday, it has a long history. I would not strictly link its expansion with Kosovo's unilateral recognition," he said.

Karasin said referendums were held in the three breakaway regions. "Their electorate almost unanimously voiced their opinion," he said. "It would be unjust to submit nations close and friendly to us to further suffering."

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